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U.S. Reports: United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974)

Excerpt from the transcript of the opinion of the Supreme Court, delivered by Mr. Chief Justice Burger.
United States. Supreme Court
1974
Document
U.S. Reports: United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974). Legal Information Institute, Cornell University. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/418/683

In 1974, the Supreme Court issued a ruling about President Richard Nixon’s claim of executive privilege. This ruling, in which the Court attempted to qualify unchecked limits on executive privilege, came toward the end of the Watergate scandal. Congress had been investigating a burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. People associated with the break-in had connections to President Nixon himself. These congressional hearings revealed that Nixon had a recording device in the Oval Office, and Congress requested the tapes be turned over to them for their criminal investigation. Nixon refused to hand over the tapes. On July 8, 1974, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Nixon on whether President Nixon’s claim of executive privilege was constitutional. The Court’s opinion, excerpted in the document, explains why an unchecked executive poses potential risks for the nation. What reasoning did the court provide for why it needed to set limits on Nixon? What did the court say in general about the value of executive privilege?

In 1974, the Supreme Court issued a ruling about President Richard Nixon’s claim of executive privilege. This ruling, in which the Court attempted to qualify unchecked limits on executive privilege, came toward the end of the Watergate scandal. Congress had been investigating a burglary at the Democrat National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. People associated with the break-in had connections to President Nixon himself. These congressional hearings revealed that Nixon had a recording device in the Oval Office, and Congress requested the tapes be turned over to them for their criminal investigation. Nixon refused to hand over the tapes. On July 8, 1974, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Nixon on whether President Nixon’s claim of executive privilege was constitutional. The Court’s opinion, excerpted in the document, explained why an unchecked executive poses potential risks for the nation. The Court also clarified areas that affirmed the value of executive privilege. An additional helpful link: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/418/683/case.html Audio Recording of Majority Opinion Audio: https://www.oyez.org/cases/1973/73-1766 9:45-13:20 OR 11:35-13:20; 14:38-16:15 (You can clip this!)

“…neither the doctrine of separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances. The President's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the courts. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument that even the very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished….”